George Alexander Graham Adamson (3 February 1906 – 20 August 1989), who was also known as the Baba ya Simba (“Father of Lions” in Swahili), was a Senior Game Warden of the Northern Frontier Province of Kenya (Meru National Park), a British wildlife conservationist, an author and so much more. He and his wife, Joy Adamson, are best known through the movie Born Free and best-selling book with the same title, which is based on the true story of Elsa the Lioness, an orphaned lioness cub they had raised and later released into the wild.
Elsa (January 1956 to January 24, 1961) and her two sisters, “Big One” and “Lustica”, first came under the care of the Adamsons when only a few weeks old. They had become orphaned when George was reluctantly forced to kill their mother during one of his safaris. He was hunting for a male man-eater, but when a female charged him, he fired in self-defense. After the lioness was dead, it was apparent that she was defending her cubs. Elsa’s two sisters were eventually sent to the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands, while Elsa herself remained with the Adamsons’ until she was released into the wild, following the Adamsons’ efforts to train her to survive on her own.
George and Joy Adamson were determined to give Elsa the education she needed to hunt and live in the wild. Her efforts paid off, earning Elsa worldwide fame at the time, when her life’s story, up to this point, was published in the book Born Free. When Elsa was three years old, she brought three cubs of her own to show to the Adamsons, whom the Adamsons named “Jespah” (male), “Gopa” (male), and “Little Elsa” (female). The life of Elsa and her cubs is covered in the book, Living Free, published not long afterwards.
Elsa died with her head in George’s lap, bringing much grief to a gentle man who would suffer many more painful losses, when she succumbed to Babesia felis, a tick-borne blood disease somewhat similar in character to malaria, which often infects members of the cat family. After George buried her, George and his scouts fired 20 volleys of shots over her grave in the hopes that her mate may have heard them and paused. Elsa is buried in Meru National Park near the river and to this day many visitors to Meru still go to visit her grave and pay their respect.
Of her death George wrote:
“My Elsa gone. Gone the most wonderful friend and part of my life which nothing can replace. Why should it be? Something which has created nothing but good will and love in the world?”
Elsa and the other Adamson lions had shown the world that if given love and respect, a lion is capable of a far wider range of behavior than had previously been believed. She and the other lions were NOT programmed eating ‘machines’ with only conditioned reflexes but instead an ‘individual’ capable of a continuing trust, affection and friendship with other animals and humans. The LOVE combined with respect that George and Joy had shown these animals had brought out qualities that most persons would have said did not exist. But Elsa and the other lions proved that these admirable qualities did exist and that lions have feelings and are individuals.
A few years ago someone posted the video of “Christian the Lion” and his reunion with Australians John Rendall and Anthony “Ace” Bourke. They had bought Christian from Harrods department store in London, England. When Christian was a year old, it became apparent to both that they could not keep him in London. When Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the film Born Free, visited Rendall and Bourke’s furniture store Sophisticat, and met Christian, they suggested that Bourke and Rendall ask the assistance of George Adamson who agreed to reintegrate Christian into the wild at his compound in the Kora National Reserve, Kenya.
Adamson introduced Christian to an older male lion, “Boy”, who had been used in the movie Born Free and who also featured prominently in the documentary film The Lions Are Free (Boy and George were especially close), and subsequently to a female cub Katania in order to form the nucleus of a new pride. The pride suffered many setbacks: Katania was possibly devoured by crocodiles at a watering hole; another female was killed by wild lions; and Boy was severely injured, afterwards losing his ability to socialize with other lions and humans, and was shot by Adamson (something that broke his heart) after fatally wounding an assistant. These events left Christian as the sole surviving member of the original pride. Over the course of a year, as George Adamson continued his work, the pride established itself in the region around Kora, with Christian as the head of the pride started by Boy.
When Rendall and Bourke were informed by Adamson of Christian’s successful reintroduction to the wild, they traveled to Kenya to visit Christian and were filmed in the documentary “Christian, The Lion at World’s End” (released in the U.S. as Christian the Lion). According to the documentary, Adamson advised Rendall and Bourke that Christian might not remember them. The film shows the lion at first cautiously approach and then quickly leap playfully onto the two men, standing on his hind legs and wrapping his front legs around their shoulders, nuzzling their faces. The documentary also shows the lionesses, Mona and Lisa, and a foster cub named Supercub welcoming the two men.
John Rendall details a final, largely unfilmed reunion that occurred. By this time Christian was successfully defending his own pride, had cubs of his own and was about twice the size he was in the earlier reunion video. Adamson advised Rendall that it would most likely be a wasted trip as he had not seen Christian’s pride for nine months. However, when John Rendall reached Kora, Christian and his pride had returned to Adamson’s compound the day before his arrival.
John Rendall describes the visit he and George Adamson had:
“We called him and he stood up and started to walk towards us very slowly. Then, as if he had become convinced it was us, he ran towards us, threw himself on to us, knocked us over, knocked George over and hugged us, like he used to, with his paws on our shoulders.”
The second reunion lasted until the next morning. According to Rendall that was the last time anyone saw Christian. George Adamson counted the days without seeing Christian from the late spring 1973 final reunion. He notes in his book My Pride And Joy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987) that after 97 days, he stopped counting.
George Adamson continued his work with Lions and helped many to have a free life. He always remained their trustworthy friend. He was “Baba ya Simba” (Father of Lions). George showed us what man could do with Love even when dealing with what some would call, ferocious wild animals. George lived and interacted with his lion friends who were living their life in the wild. What killed both George and Joy is the most ruthless and dangerous predator of any in existence, humans.
Sadly on August 20, 1989 George Adamson was murdered in Kenya, East Africa by Somalian bandits when he went to the rescue of his assistant and a young European tourist in the Kora National Park. He is buried in the Kora National Park near to his brother Terrance, Super Cub and his beloved lion friend Boy.
George Adamson, a hero to the end…